Why a special senate election could be great for Christie

Frank Lautenberg and Chris Christie

Gov. Christie refused to entertain the idea that politics played a role in his decision to hold a special primary election on Aug. 13, and a special general election on Oct. 16, for a permanent replacement to the late Sen. Lautenberg. 

He said he thinks having an election ASAP -- three weeks before his own re-election in November, and more than a year before November 2014 -- fulfills the wishes of Lautenberg, an acknowledged political nemesis who also "fought tirelessly for the people of New Jersey."

"I know that Sen. Lautenberg wouldn’t want the people of New Jersey to go without a voice in the United States Senate," he said this afternoon at a news conference.

"This is about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process and the representation that they deserve in Washington."

Let's assume that's true. But let's also take a look at the political repercussions. By holding a special election in October, Christie can benefit in three ways: 


  1. A deep-pocketed Democratic senate candidate -- like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Congressman Frank Pallone -- will air TV ads all summer and fall, and hog up the MSNBC air time. That only hurts Christie's inevitable opponent in November, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono, who has less money and name recognition than those men. She needs attention to close the double-digit gap in the polls with Christie, but she will now be competing for attention with fellow Democrats.
  2. Christie can run without being hampered by a hugely popular Democratic name, like Booker, on the same ballot in November. Christie could have signed the writ for the special election 10 days from now, thereby allowing voters to pick a governor and senator on the same Tuesday in November. By scheduling the election in October, though -- which he said he had to do to make sure there is a permanent senator in Washington ASAP -- Christie doesn't have to worry about pro-Booker Democrats coming out in November and voting for Buono. In fact, maybe some Democrats who are warmer to Booker than Buono stay home for the gubernatorial election.
  3. Christie sidesteps the dilemma of finding a long-term senate replacement who would serve until 2014. Christie will still pick a temporary senator -- he hasn't said who it will be -- but there is now less pressure on that choice since the pick will only service for four months. Otherwise, Christie would have had to decide whether to placate Democrats and independents in New Jersey by choosing a moderate Republican -- or please national conservatives by picking a conseravative Republican.


It's not like this decision makes everyone happy. I asked Christie about the right-wing Drudge Report's headline today -- "Christie mulls spending $24 million to avoid Cory Booker."  That refers to the cost of holding two extra elections. 

"I can't worry about some of the nonsense that gets written...If I spent as much If I spent as much time as others apparently do on the internet I would lose my mind," he said. 

As for the $24 million price-tag for the new elections: "I don’t know what the cost is and I frankly don’t care. I don’t think you can put a price tag to put an elected person in the United States senate…we’re not going to be penny-wise and pound foolish."

Democrats are pushing back on Christie's decision, saying having two elections so close together will suppress voter turnout and sow confusion. "

“It's as if he gave the residents of this state the finger and that finger will cost $24 million," said state Sen. Richard Codey (D., Essex). "Instead of holding an expensive special election that tries to protect the governor's political vulnerabilities, the voters should have the opportunity to have their say in the regular election in November."

State Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski said: “Chris Christie’s decision speaks more to his national political ambitions than his responsibility to the residents of New Jersey as Governor.”

Added Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver: "The November general election date is what’s best for taxpayers and voter turn-out. It’s unquestionably the best option, but Gov. Christie has chosen to put partisan politics and his self-interest first.”

So there it is. Two of the four big elections in the country this year will happen in New Jersey. 

Here's Christie: "So for all of you who were bored with the governor's race, I have now solved your problem….and most importantly, the people of New Jersey in 130 days will have the opportunity to select who will represent them in the United States Senate."